SV PRESENTS: Vertical by Nelson De Castro

On March 6, 2017, StandardVision launched it’s latest site-specific live-action public art video by acclaimed music video director Nelson De Castro, entitled Vertical. The piece represents another new, innovative and original film in the SV Presents series; an art initiative showcasing the work of creative visual artists working within the community.  The SV Presents series is part of our goal to develop culturally relevant media channels showcasing the work of up-and-coming and established directors whose visions represent a fresh perspective within the art and filmmaking worlds.

Vertical, which features eight individuals performing rotational movements around a fixed point, is a dynamic and hypnotizing deconstruction of movement and setting. By precisely synchronizing camera and subject, Vertical achieves a perfect distillation of complex motion. Slow motion recordings of complex displays of unique physical motions performed by an array of specialized athletes photographed in natural environment surroundings turn the table upside down on visual expectation by displaying the subjects as a constant center of a spinning world. Challenging to describe but a joy to get lost in, De Castro’s Vertical leaves viewers attempting to re-calibrate their everyday view of the world around them.

To learn more about Vertical, we sat down with Nelson de Castro to get some insight into the way the piece was created.

What is the inspiration behind Vertical?

I’d toyed with variations of this idea for a while, and always liked how focused it could be. Part of the inspiration was the format. For a large media facade I felt like the idea had to be simple and eye catching, something someone walking by can catch for even just a few seconds and still understand.

 

Can you tell us a little bit about the technical process?

We used a manual rig that allowed us to pan and tilt, while rotating the camera around the lens axis.  Operating the camera manually was essential to us, since we were synchronizing with variable human motion, often on the fly.  This allowed subtle reaction to changes in each take. The shooting process often involved dozens of takes from our athletes, while the camera operators repeatedly honed the movement into sync. 

Did you run into any technical roadblocks while filming the piece?

There were two factors to consider, the physical limitations of our performers and the constraints of our rotating camera rig.  Since it often took many takes to get our camera work in sync with the action, we had to find a balance between actions that were impressive but also repeatable.  

We also discovered some interesting limitations in the physical operation of the rig. For example, the force created while rotating the camera fought against the force of a tilt or pan.  This meant one of our operators had to feel out each move differently, and counteract the momentum.  

Is there anything about making the project that surprised you in a positive way?

The camera approach evolved into something I hadn’t expected, requiring two simultaneous operators.  Our DP, Philips Shum, handled the pan and/or tilt, while our AC, Ethan Coco, focused on rotation.  It was amazing to watch the two of them synchronize and improve as a unit throughout the shoot. 

After watching the piece on the screen, would you say there is a difference between making content for regularly formatted platform (such as internet, tv, and theaters) and media facades?

Absolutely.  The context is so unique, the piece is fighting all the typical visual noise of DTLA so it was a fun challenge conceiving of something that could hopefully cut through and engage a happenstance audience.  The piece also had to stand on its own without the usual element of sound design or music.  The whole process was a refreshing change of pace.

Vertical will play at the top of every hour through April 9 on the SVLA1 screen located at 901 W. Olympic Blvd in downtown Los Angeles.